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Ten minutes with Joe Sterrett

Murray Goodman, left, shakes hand with Joe Sterrett at the 2004 Founder's Day ceremony.

As part of Lehigh's $500 million campaign, Murray H. Goodman '48 made a donation to establish the Murray H. Goodman Dean of Athletics, reflecting his strong belief in the complementary role of athletics and academics at exemplary institutions such as Lehigh. Joe Sterrett '76, a former quarterback at Lehigh who has served as the school's athletics director since 1989, is the first Goodman Dean of Athletics. Sterrett sat down with Bill Doherty to discuss the significance of his new title and the challenges that his job presents.

What is the significance of Lehigh having a Dean of Athletics? What message does it send to current Lehigh student-athletes as well as to Lehigh alums?

While at least a handful of schools in the country have endowed Athletic Directors, it is my understanding that the title, Dean of Athletics, is the first of its kind. I hope that it symbolizes a recognition that this staff of educators here (in the athletic department) are active and valued participants in the educational mission on this campus. These gifted people are giving up significant portions of their lives to take on the challenge of helping young people grow up and develop. That is a pretty consuming task and it gets harder every year.

Sometimes there's an inclination to view any individual who works in an educational environment, but outside the traditional classroom setting, as ancillary or at best as extracurricular. I hope what this says is that what our coaches and staff do is much more central, that we can have a tremendous effect on the quality of the intellectual life on campus and that we can have a tremendous impact on the personal development of young people. In the academic world, the person who is in charge of that kind of mission carries the Dean title, so I suppose President Farrington thought, why not in this department?

Does the fact that there are true student-athletes at Lehigh fly in the face of what's going on at many other Division I schools?

I think that's the biggest challenge that the people who work here in athletics confront. And it's magnifying almost every year. Something else that's getting ever more pronounced every year is the concept of chasing dollars, which requires an orientation which is much more intricate and business oriented, in conflict with educating young people through sports participation.

That tension, that stress, is growing all the time. This investment, in a sense, helps us to worry less about the need to drift in that direction and allows us to focus on the things that we want to focus on, such as educating our student-athletes.

What has Murray Goodman's generosity meant to Lehigh athletics during your tenure?

His generosity, in my opinion, is just the icing on an extraordinary cake. He's an incredible visionary as well as a profoundly pragmatic guy. His sense of what makes sense and what is right and what needs to happen has been right on the entire time I've known him, which is 20 years or so.

A portion of Goodman's latest donation is going to enable Lehigh to add full-time assistant coaches in some varsity sports. What's the significance of that?

It should have a tremendous effect. If you look at our staffing, the reality is that the majority of our sports have only one full-time individual associated with that sport. At the most fundamental level, if you look at the duties of a head coach, they are primarily two. The first is the development of the young people in the program at the time, and that has multiple dimensions -- counseling, mentoring, motivating, and so forth. And as if all of that isn't time-consuming enough, the second major duty is to recruit new student-athletes that fit this institution's goal of having the best and brightest students we can. Both of those duties are enormous challenges and yet for most sports here at Lehigh, we have only one full-time person doing it.

So what we'd like to do is add assistant coaches on a full-time basis in as many sports as we can. These won't be highly compensated positions, but it will give us some extra help to make the professional experience for the head coach and the learning experience for our athletes a stronger one. It will enable us to better reach our two objectives of developing the student-athletes we have on campus, while at the same time always bringing in the highest level of candidates that we can.

It seems like a great time for Lehigh athletics with the men's basketball team going to the 2004 NCAA Tournament, the wrestling team being one of the nation's best, the softball and soccer teams doing great things, the football team going to the I-AA playoffs ...

It is. There are a lot of really great things happening when you evaluate it in a traditional sense of wins and losses. However, there's great risk when you measure yourself by only those results. I come to work every day focused on how well we prepare these young people for the world that they're not only going to live in, but that they're going to lead. That's why students should come to Lehigh. They shouldn't come here just to get a degree and a run-of-the-mill job. They should come here because they expect to be in a difference-making position at some point or at least aspire to that. And if that's the case, then we've got to produce leaders who are understanding of differences, can accept criticism, have the ability to adapt, are tolerant yet firmly convicted, and possess skills that are constantly being honed and refined while they're here at Lehigh.

How fortunate do you feel to be a part of this university for 29 years?

It's actually 33 if I include my undergraduate years, but I do feel fortunate to have spent that amount of time at Lehigh. But I'm not still here because I went to Lehigh or because I bleed brown. I've stayed here for so long because of the vision that this university has, the progress that's been made in achieving that vision, and because the nature of that vision is such that it continues to be challenging. Lehigh has become a much stronger institution and still strives to become an even better place. Lehigh's an institution that produces people who make a difference in this world and I'm honored to be associated with a place like that.

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Winter 2005

Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005

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